Mexico Starts Partial Recount of Vote

The Associated Press
Thursday, August 10, 2006; 1:17 AM

MEXICO CITY -- Electoral officials fanned out across the country Wednesday to begin a partial recount in Mexico's tight presidential election, while leftists alleging vote fraud blocked bank headquarters in the capital and vowed to take their disruptive protests nationwide.

Guarded by soldiers and monitored by electoral judges and representatives of all of Mexico's five political parties, authorities started sifting through ballots cast at 11,839 polling booths, about 9 percent of the 130,000 booths used during the July 2 election.

The count must finish by Sunday. The Federal Electoral Tribunal will review the results and can then declare a president-elect by Sept. 6, annul the election or order a greater recount.

The initial results gave Felipe Calderon, the pro-business candidate of conservative President Vicente Fox's National Action Party, a lead of 240,000 votes, or less than 1 percent, over leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, former mayor of Mexico City.

"We don't accept this recount," Lopez Obrador told thousands of his supporters in Mexico City's central plaza on Wednesday night.

His campaign team said they had found that vote tally sheets were different from actual votes in about 60 percent of the ballot boxes examined, and that 18 percent had been opened after the elections.

However, National Action officials told reporters that their observers had witnessed no major irregularities in any partial recount and said a recount in western Jalisco state gave Calderon about 2,000 additional votes.

The partial count could change the results, but it was considered unlikely to tip the balance in favor of Lopez Obrador, whose supporters have been disrupting life in the capital for more than a week to press their charge he was robbed of an election victory by fraud.

Calderon welcomed the partial recount, saying it would cement his advantage.

But Lopez Obrador dismissed the action as a farce and said his loyalists would continue their demonstrations unless authorities ordered a vote-by-vote recount of all 41 million ballots.

Across Mexico, electoral officials sliced open seals placed over doorways and pulled tape off doorknobs to reopen storage rooms holding the paper ballots cast July 2.

Officials then began opening sealed polling packages to sift through ballots and read the tallies from polling stations. They were looking for mathematical errors, evidence of fraud, ballots that should have been thrown out, or ballots that were mistakenly annulled.

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